Judicial Workload in Washington State

May 29, 2012

By Stephanie Macgill, MPA; Alicia Summers, PhD, Jesse Russell, PhD, Steve Wood, MS

Background

In partnership with the Washington Administrative Office of the Courts, the NCJFCJ piloted a judicial workload calculation that accounted for dependency practice complexity and hearing quality in three jurisdictions. Brief discussion, low stakeholder engagement, and inconsistent judicial inquiry were considered minimally sufficient practice. Thorough hearings were marked by substantive discussions, high levels of stakeholder engagement, and consistent judicial inquiry. Thorough hearings result in better placement outcomes for children and families and increase the likelihood of family reunification. In 2011, the judicial workload assessment was expanded to every jurisdiction in Washington. 

Summary

Court administrators were interviewed to determine current juvenile dependency judicial resources in terms of full time equivalent (FTE) allocations in each jurisdiction. Dependency caseload data and time estimates for minimally sufficient and thorough practice were added to the workload calculation. Researchers found that 64 percent of Washington’s jurisdictions were adequately staffed to conduct minimally sufficient hearings. However, only 49 percent of jurisdictions had enough judicial resources to conduct thorough hearings. Statewide, the total judicial resources for juvenile dependency was 15.02 FTE judicial officers. In order to conduct thorough hearings, researchers estimated that 33.50 FTE judicial officers would be needed.

Implications

To conduct thorough hearings and increase the likelihood of improved outcomes for children and their families, most of Washington’s courts are not adequately staffed. Consequently, many hearings may be cut short and discussion that can lead to better outcomes does not happen, which may lead to unnecessarily delayed permanency.

Thorough hearings are important for engaging parents, improving placement outcomes and increasing the chances of family reunification.

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